Category Archives: Encouragement

We Are to Pray

Head-Bowed-in-PrayerWe have examples in the Scripture of praying for those in sickness that they may be healed. This involves too the continuance of life. We are to pray for our daily bread, to pray for wisdom, to pray for power to control our evil tempers and unholy passions, to pray that we may be kept from temptation, from the persecution of evil men, that our brethren may be delivered from evil and evil men, and we are to pray that our own sins and the sins of our brethren may be forgiven.

We are to pray that the Gospel may have free course and be glorified, that an opening may be given to those who preach the Gospel.

We are to pray for rulers and for all who are in authority, that Christians may be enabled to lead lives of godliness in peace and quiet. They are to pray to be kept back from sin. They are taught to pray that it shall rain when season of drought and blight fall upon the land.

We are to pray for the Spirit of God. We are to pray for wisdom. In old times they prayed that God would give neither riches nor poverty, but such things as would keep His servants from harassment or care, or want, or temptations of great riches.

We believe such prayers ought to be fervently and earnestly made now and our lives made to harmonize with the prayers. These occur to us as we write, and with more thought and Scripture examination it might be indefinitely extended.

We will venture the assertion, it is the right and duty of every Christian to pray for any and everything for which he can work. He ought to labor in no calling or object in which and for the attainment of which he cannot pray.

The true objects of prayer are many. The great difficulty in prayer is in praying with the true design or spirit and in praying in faith and in keeping ourselves in such condition that God will hear and answer our prayers.

All our prayers ought to be presented in the spirit of which the Savior prayed. Our petitions ought to be made in the spirit, that we desire them answered if according to the will of God. That is, our wishes ought to be held in strict subservience to the will of God.

God somethings fails to answer the prayers of his dearest children. This is no evidence that those prayers are not heard or are offensive to God.

–Adapted from David Lipscomb
Gospel Advocate, Oct. 19, 1871, p. 963f.

“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Luke 18.1

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12.12

“…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints….” Ephesians 6.17,18

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.“ Philippians 4.6

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” 1 John 5.14-15

 

Too Precious for Profit

The west Texas summers were hot and the houses weren’t air conditioned. Summers are supposed to be hot, that’s why there are lawn sprinklers. You could play in the water all up and down the block, get soaked, and in a matter of minutes be dry again. Ah, the good ole summertime, what fun!

It wasn’t such fun for my parents. I remember their guarded glances and whispered conversations one particularly hot summer. A playmate of mine, a little girl named Ruthie, fell ill. She lost the ability to move her arms and legs and she was unable to breathe on her own. She had to be placed in an “iron lung.” Polio had struck our neighborhood.

A Cure

Two American physicians, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, were working feverishly and independently of each other in an attempt to develop a vaccine for this crippling and deadly disease. By the mid-1950’s both had produced a vaccine. Salk’s “killed virus” vaccine was injected while Sabin’s “live virus” vaccine was administered orally.

I still remember clearly the day we were lined up and marched to the school nurse’s station to be vaccinated for polio. Vaccinations had always meant needles and I was concerned about crying in front of my schoolmates. But instead of a syringe, the nurse handed us a little cup containing two sugar cubes to eat. Now that’s my kind of vaccination!

It was sixty-three years ago last month that health authorities announced the development of the first safe and effective vaccine for polio. Thanks to these two men, their staffs, and research facilities, the disease is unknown today in the United States and is about to be eradicated in the rest of the world.

And you want to know something else? After years of work, research, and development, neither Jonas Salk nor Albert Sabin patented their vaccines. They gave it away – it was too precious for profit!

Disease Worse Than Polio

But as bad as polio or cancer or AIDS or a host of other physical diseases are, there’s another killer out there that’s far worse – it’s called sin. Physical disease destroys the body, but that’s all it can do. Sin destroys not only the body but the soul.

The soul is the eternal essence of mankind. It is immune to physical disease. An individual may suffer from polio or cancer or have diseased coronary arteries, but those have no effect on the soul.

The soul is susceptible to only one affliction, sin. It’s wide-spread; in fact, everyone has it. It’s as pernicious a malady as one can imagine. Yet its symptoms are often eagerly embraced and its nature ignored or even made the object of lighthearted humor. But make no mistake about it, sin is no laughing matter – its terminus is eternal conscious hell.

The Cure

There is only one vaccine for sin – sinless blood – the blood of a divine innocent victim, the blood of God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth. Throughout the long storied history of human existence, no one ever devised or developed a remedy for sin, though they’ve tried. The heavenly bodies, the sun, stars, and moon, have been made objects of veneration, as have the mountains, rivers, and forests. Animals have been offered, plants offered, even other human beings have been sacrificed to atone for sin. “Nothing can for sin atone, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Seeing our helplessness, our susceptibility to sin and its awful consequences, God, our Creator, offered His own Son to be our sin offering:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.6-8).

And though the “wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6.23). O! Thanks be to God who loves and cares for us so much that He gave His own Son away – we are indeed too precious for profit!

–Bill

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

 

“This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying,

“This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Luke’s own editorial comment, describing the context in which the three parables of chapter fifteen were told, is too often overlooked. The tax collectors were despised both because they collaborated with the hated Roman occupation (or, in Galilee, worked for Herod Antipas) and because they were usually guilty of extortion. Sinners, on the other hand, was a term of abuse that the Pharisees gave to common people ignorant of the law.

The Pharisees ostracized both groups. So when Jesus associated with them, they were outraged. “This man receives sinners,” they said in shocked horror. But Luke records this with his approval and even admiration. So should we.

In fact, sinners are the only people Jesus receives. If He didn’t, there would be no hope for us.

The Lost-and-Found Parables in Context

Jesus told His three lost-and-found parables in order to highlight the fundamental difference between Himself and the Pharisees. He welcomed sinners; they objected and rejected them. They had a false notion of holiness. They thought they would be contaminated by contact, so they kept their distance. Jesus, however, fraternized with them freely and was even called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11.19).

If Pharisees saw a prostitute approaching, they would gather their robes around them and shrink from her, but when a prostitute approached Jesus, He did not shrink from her but accepted her devotion.

So the question before us is whether we resemble Jesus or the Pharisees – whether we avoid contact with sinners or seek it.

We must not misunderstand this. The fact that Jesus received sinners does not mean that He condoned their sins. On the contrary, all three parables end on a note of repentance and celebration. Jesus rejected the opposite extremes of Pharisaism and compromise. There is joy in heaven, He said, over even one sinner who repents.

What About Us?

Because “this man receives sinners,” we must receive them too. Such is the nature of our calling and commission.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’

I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18.10-14).

Justification is a legal term, the opposite of condemnation. The Old Testament magistrates were instructed to justify the innocent and condemn the guilty. So we can imagine the indignation of the Pharisees when Jesus pronounced the sinful tax collector justified and the upright Pharisee condemned. Was Jesus daring to ascribe to God an action He had forbidden to human judges?

Differences Between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The two actors in the parable both went up to the temple to pray. But there the similarities end and the dissimilarities begin.

First, they had an entirely different opinion of themselves. Five times the Pharisee used the personal pronoun “I.” But the tax collector used it only once and in the accusative, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” This is the language of true penitence.

Further, their different opinion of themselves was reflected in their posture. Both stood (in customary Jewish fashion). But the Pharisee stood erect, proud, and ostentatious, preoccupied with himself, whereas the tax collector stood “some distance away,” eyes downcast and beating his breast.

Next, they had a different object of confidence for acceptance with God. The Pharisee trusted in himself that he was righteous, while the tax collector trusted in God’s mercy alone.

There is where we belong, alongside the tax collector, not weighing our merits but begging the pardon of our offences through Jesus Christ – trusting not in our own righteousness but in His manifold great mercy.

 – John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year

 

 

 

 

How to Have a Great 2016

It’s late Saturday afternoon, the evening before the first Sunday in 2016 – the ninth “New Year’s Sunday” Cheryl and I have been privileged to spend at Westside.

In the autumn of that first full year I prepared and taught a course here on the book of Ecclesiastes entitled The Words of the Preacher. In the introduction to that course I wrote the following:

Life is cyclical. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west only to rise in the east again and again and again. The seasons come and go in the same order as the earth makes its annual and unending orbit around the sun. Rivers, swollen by rains, continually flow into the seas, yet the seas are never full. The heat of the sun draws water from the oceans up into the atmosphere where it cools and condenses and falls back to the earth as rain.

Crops are planted in the spring, grow to maturity through the summer, are harvested in the fall; fields lie fallow through the winter, and crops are planted again in the spring. Every life begins with a birth and ends with a death.

There is nothing new under the sun. Existence is a pattern of cycles. Much of creation repeats these cycles without thought – it just does what it has been made to do. However, there is one in the universe capable of rational thought – man, that’s us. And we have questions!

We observe the cycles of nature and the cycles of life and ask “why?” and “how?” We are driven to excel and to accomplish, yet the cycles never change. What is new today is obsolete tomorrow. At a basic level nothing ever changes. What is the meaning and purpose of life?

And so we begin the New Year together again; another cycle has been completed. I pray for a good year – even a great year! But what’ll it take to make this year fulfill our hopes and aspirations?

To answer that I’ll have to borrow words, because no one said it better than Paul – “…seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3.1). That’s what will make this year and any year great. But it’s a counter-cultural concept, always has been and always will be – we (human beings) just don’t think that way. We’ve conditioned ourselves to think almost solely in terms of the here and now instead of the there and then.

The problem Solomon forces us to confront in Ecclesiastes is materialism. The problem with materialism is it constantly changes and never lasts – so you can never quite catch it, never quite get enough – like trying to catch the wind!

Everything we have here is at one moment new then old the next. Like the car that rolls off the assembly line – it’s new for just a moment, then another rolls off behind it, and then another, and another and another and …

Everything we have here works for a moment then breaks or becomes obsolete. When that happens it’s either thrown away or replaced.

I had a friend tell me once back in the ’70s about his “forever” car. It had every bell and whistle you could imagine (back then), and he was going to drive it forever. He’s in his eighties now and has probably had ten cars since then – that “forever car” is long scrapped and forgotten.

Materialism longs for permanence but never acquires it. So when our hopes and aspirations are centered on material goods and values, we’re guaranteed to be disappointed, frustrated, and unfulfilled.

Solomon got it right at the end of his book when he said: The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole person; for God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

It’s hard for us to let go of now and fully embrace then; to exchange the things we can see for those we cannot; to fully relinquish trust in ourselves and surrender all to Him whom we must trust solely on the basis of faith.

I pray we all have a faithful year. If we do that, 2016 will be a GREAT YEAR!

Grace and peace to you all, Bill

 

 

“Hear Him.”

“Hear Him,”

says the God who made the worlds, rules among the armies of heaven, hurled down angels to hell for disobedience, and whose voice shook the earth. The God who holds the destinies of all the nations in His hand, who “weighs the hills in a balance and handles the isles as a very little thing,” in connection with the revelation of His Son, with all the majesty of His authority, says,

“Hear Him.”

Give Him audience, regard Him, bow to Him, follow Him, be guided by Him, honor and obey Him forever.

“Hear Him.”

If a man receives the revelation God makes of His Son, or, rather, if he receives His Son from the revelation He has made of Him, and bows in submission to Him in accordance with the command to,

“Hear Him,”

Confesses with the mouth before men what he believes in his heart, that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” and submits to the divine test of loyalty, being buried with his Lord in baptism, gives the highest assurance in his power to give, that he is changed in heart. He shows that he loves God and will serve Him, and is bound by the strongest obligation that can ever bind a human being, to love and serve God.

The authority that requires this submission is the highest and most binding that can rest upon a human being; and, if it does not govern, control, and restrain the person, no authority can.

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; Hear Him.”
Matthew 17.5

Benjamin Franklin, Preacher of the Gospel
(February 1, 1812 – October 22, 1878)

Ceaseless Prayer

Praying HandsTo “pray without ceasing” refers essentially to recurring prayer – not non-stop talking.  “Ceaseless prayer” is living in continual God-consciousness: When we are tempted, we hold up the temptation before God and ask for His help. When we experience something good or beautiful, we immediately thank the Lord for it. When we see evil about us, we ask God to use us to make it right according to His will. When we meet one who does not know Christ, we ask God to help us be effective messengers of the Good News. When we encounter trouble, we turn to God as our Deliverer.

Life becomes a continually ascending prayer: all life’s thoughts, deeds, and circumstances become an opportunity to commune with our Heavenly Father – in that way we “set our minds on things above, not on the things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3.2).

Persistent, continual prayer welling up from the innermost part of our being is what moves the heart of our compassionate and loving Heavenly Father. Jesus’ promise to His people is this: “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you” (Mark 11.24).

— Bill

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3.14-21

 

Blessed Sunday Morning

Who are these that gather together on Sunday mornings? Old and young, women and men, girls and boys – who are they?

And why do they come week after week, month after month and year after year? God knows. At different times they come with different moods, from different motivations and for different reasons. To see friends, because parents require it, because it’s expected of them, because their children and their friends need them to be present, maybe even because there’s a certain boy or girl there, because…

I suppose we’ve all shared in the poor, bad or doubtful reasons for congregating, but there are times when, by God’s grace, we get it right and we gather for very good reasons – the best reasons.

We’re never so visibly one as when we make an appointment at a given place and a given time for a given purpose – and keep it!

Sometimes we gather simply to thank God!

And millions of us have so much to be thankful for! (I have nothing to say at this point about those sorrowful people whose lives are so tragically hard that they feel they have nothing to be thankful for. And I get that!) I’m speaking now about us who have food, clothes, clean water, parks, rivers, friends, loving children or parents, jobs, health to work, financial security – enough to see us through, tiny grandchildren who must have our spectacles to eat or husbands/wives to make lovely days even lovelier. Sometimes we just want to thank someone for rain and warm sunshine, for friends to love and be loved by, and so we gather to sing our gratitude.

Sometimes we come to apologize for our wrongs.

We don’t come to grovel and crawl before God, pleading for forgiveness as though He were tightfisted and miserly and had to be begged into a good mood. The cross of Christ! Imagine Him speaking from the cross – this Savior of ours – “Do I look like you have to grovel and crawl to find forgiveness? Has the Holy Father who sent Me here to this place and for this reason strike you as one you must crawl before, like some petty and heartless tyrant?” Were we to crawl and grovel would it not be an insult – would it not?

The cross shows He views our sin with profound seriousness but it shows that the last word with Him is, “I delight – yes, delight in forgiving your sins” (Micah 7.18-19 with John 3.16-17). And it’s centrally because He in generous righteousness forgives us freely and fully that we can’t help apologizing that we sadden Him. “Yes,” He would say, “it’s all right to apologize but don’t grovel. Get up and move on toward a better heart and a better day and I will help you.”

Sometimes we come for challenge and kind rebuke.

We don’t want your smugness and self-righteousness whitewashed, we don’t want to be forever babied or spoken to in that “there, there, it’s all right” tone as if we were little children who were a little naughty. God’s Holy Son didn’t come nor did His Holy Father send Him to make it easier for us to sin or to blind us to the destructive power of the evil that feeds like a slimy parasite on the entire human family and vulnerable Christians. We want to be awakened out of our christianly sleep and lolling to engage in war with the “world” (organized cosmic corruption) for the human family as our Master has done and is doing.

We wish to be made bold in our praying; we want to be transformed so that we pray less for trivia and more for strength to engage in kingdom living – the kind of living that’s described in Revelation as war against red Dragons, seven-headed sea monsters and all the earth’s allies of brutality and human enslavement. We want to hear preaching and teaching that will stun us with the truth of who our God is and what it is He is up to and having stunned us it will then galvanize us to join with Him in His cosmic rescue!

These and more are reasons we gather on Sunday morning!

 – Jim McGuiggan

 

Thinking of Husbands and Wives

God said, “It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion.” So God formed from the dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the Man to see what he would name them. Whatever the Man called each living creature, that was its name. The Man named the cattle, named the birds of the air, named the wild animals; but he didn’t find a suitable companion.

God put the Man into a deep sleep. As he slept He removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh. God then used the rib that He had taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man.

The Man said, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman, for she was made from Man.” Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh.

Genesis 2:18-24

God ordained marriage for our welfare, for our happiness, and to provide us with intimate companionship. It’s a mutual relationship that requires both the husband and wife to give unselfishly of themselves, always seeking the best for the other, putting the other first.

Marriage is a mutual trust spoken in solemn vows before God and to each other that as husbands and wives we will honor and love and cherish one another; that we will reserve our intimate affection solely for each other; that we will care for and protect, provide for and sustain each other.

Marriage takes two different people, joins them so that they are no longer two but one, no longer “I” or “me,” but “we” and “us.”

Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
 the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden
.

Proverbs 30.18-19

 

Criticism: Nobody Likes It

Know what? It’s really easy to be critical. Why that’s so is a mystery to me. It seems like people would enjoy talking about good stuff, concentrating on nice things, searching for the good things to talk about – but they don’t! If something new comes along, or something different, or someone says a word out of place, some people just can’t wait to have at it. They can’t seem to wait to be offended or to become angry.

Even Jesus, who was the finest man who ever lived, sinless before God, and caring and compassionate toward others even to the point of laying His life down for them, suffered from the vicious tongues of His critics:

  • He was called a glutton and a winebibber (a drunk);
  • He was accused of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons;
  • He was called a sinner and Beelzebub (the prince of the devils);
  • He was accused of being demon possessed Himself;
  • He was called the worst thing imaginable – a “Samaritan”;
  • He was charged of profaning the Sabbath;
  • He was accused of being a deceiver and a blasphemer.

Nothing appears to be safe from criticism’s damning influence. Those who attacked the Lord were those rejecting Him and bent on destroying Him. A short while later, after the church had been established, critics popped up there, too, spreading their venom throughout the newly planted churches. One of the reasons Paul wrote 2 Corinthians was to answer the criticism being leveled against him by some in the Corinthian church:

  • They accused him of being a coward, strong with written words when he was gone but backing down and using weak words when he was with them;
  • They said he was not eloquent – a lousy preacher;
  • They called him a schemer and accused him of being stingy;
  • They said he was unstable, always changing his plans;
  • They claimed he was not a real apostle like Peter or John.

Isn’t it sad (it’s sad when anyone does it) when Christians fall into the ugly habit of criticizing. Let’s don’t let that happen here – instead let’s make Ephesians 4.29 our constant companion: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Psychologists tell us when our own self-esteem is low, we tend to blame others for our problems. On the other hand, when one is secure in Christ, there is less criticism of others. Our criticism is frequently a projection of our own dissatisfaction with ourselves; hence, the one criticizing is often saying more about himself than the other person.

Here’s a short list to help us beat the criticism habit:

  1. Don’t expect perfection out of people. We all make mistakes. (It’s just that mine aren’t as bad as yours.) No one is perfect! We need to learn and practice a little patience and forbearance. “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other…” (Colossians 3.12-13).
  2. Don’t use a double standard like – my little vices, inconsistencies, and mistakes are okay – but yours aren’t so little, you need to shape up. Jesus cautioned us: “And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7.3).
  3. Extra care should be directed toward those whom we know the best and love the most. It’s unthinkable for a husband to be considerate of those he works with but harsh and impatient with his wife. And it’s certainly not right for a wife to be the nicest lady in the neighborhood and a nag at home. Again, the Lord teaches: “And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way” (Luke 6.31).

Someone said, “Only God can form and paint a flower – but any child can pull it to pieces.” That’s the ugly work of thoughtless criticism – let’s just don’t do it!

–Bill

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13.35